by Jennifer-Oksana

He shouldn't be here. But he is anyway. He should be looking for Sydney, he should be condoling Arvin about Emily (not that he doesn't realize that Arvin killed her, but condolences keep up appearances and appearances are God in this business), but he shouldn't be walking the streets of New Orleans in August, sweating through the thinnest cotton shirt he could find, smelling the water-and-spice-pregnant air until he's drunk from the beer fumes and faint tang of piss.

What is he doing here? Looking for a man. Looking for Michael Vaughn among crowds of people wandering slowly from bar to bar, big-ass beer to big-ass beer, lost memory to lost memory.

Jack is going out of his mind. Laura is alive, Sydney is in her control, and Vaughn, who should be dead, is alive and hiding from the CIA in the bayous. Why is he here? It doesn't make any sense.

But here he is and if he's going to be here, Jack might as well find Agent Vaughn and find out things he doesn't already know about what happened in Hong Kong.

So he does. It's not terribly hard. Vaughn is young and attractive and without even trying has found himself at the trendiest bar on Bourbon Street, an overpriced place called 734 where the bouncer charges Jack twenty dollars just to get in and the girls all look seventeen, sweaty, and starved.

Vaughn is standing at the bar, arguing with the leather-clad bartender over the procedure to get another jack and coke. He isn't dressed for the club, but that's all right. He's making enough of an ass of himself to make up for it.

"Vaughn," Jack says, sitting down at the bar. "Whiskey on the rocks, please."

The bartender nods and Vaughn is staring like Jack like he's a ghost.

"Jack," he says. "You're here."

"I am," Jack says. "For some reason, I don't think that means you're glad to see me."

"You're wrong," Vaughn says, looking Jack over. "I think you're just the person I need to see."

"You're drunk," Jack informs him, slightly uncomfortable at the way he's been looked at. What is Vaughn thinking? And why does Jack want to squirm?

"Very drunk," Vaughn agrees, his big soulful eyes looking ten years younger than they should. Jack curses himself for noticing. Again. The road out of hell doesn't lead through his daughter's best chance at happiness after SD-6.

Though if the look Vaughn gives him is any indicator, Sydney should stay away from Michael. That was not the look of a man who was in it for the girl.

"You're playing a dangerous game, Mr. Vaughn," Jack says, putting his hand on the younger man's shoulder protectively. "This is--sloppy. Public and sloppy."

"Yes, yes it is," Vaughn says, putting his arm on Jack's shoulders with a big, friendly smile. "What's wrong, Jack? You can tell me. We're almost family."

"You're drunk," Jack repeats. "And you're looking at me like you're trying to classify me and put me in jars. I don't like it, Vaughn. I don't know what you're trying to prove, but whatever it is, this is the wrong way to go about it."

Vaughn laughs. "I'm trying to prove?" he says. "How'd you find out I was here? I thought it was top secret. I didn't even tell Devlin. But you're still here. I'm surprised you don't have Syd-Syd-Sydney in tow, telling me that I have to straighten up and fly right."

"Why would I do that?" Jack asked, pulling away from Vaughn. "I'm not your father."

"No, your wife killed my father," Vaughn said, a hint of bitterness coming into his voice. "And your daughter's going to kill me. The Vaughn men are such suckers sometimes."

"Michael," Jack says sharply. Vaughn smiles bitterly.

"At least I'm just going to die," he says. "They did worse than kill you. They tore your soul out and jumped on it. And laughed."

"That's enough, Michael," Jack said, glaring at Vaughn. "I don't care how drunk you are, that's out of line."

To Jack's surprise, Vaughn sits up straight and nods seriously, a sudden sobriety in his eyes.

"I'm sorry," Vaughn says. "That was out of line. In vino veritas, but the truth isn't very tactful."

"No, I suppose it's not," Jack says. "We should go."

"Where?" Vaughn asks, and the next words catch in Jack's throat because he knows what is in Michael Vaughn's head. He can see it, almost as if it were transparent.

"I have a hotel room," Jack says. "A double. On the streetcar line, on St. Charles. The Ramada."

"You planned to find me," Vaughn says, sounding utterly disinterested.

"Why else would I come?" Jack asks. He is trying not to look at Vaughn. All of the answers to questions he wasn't planning to ask are on Vaughn's face, open and plain as day and he's not ready to ask the question.

"That's the question, isn't it?" Vaughn asks, touching Jack's arm. Jack looks up without intending to and catches the full force of Vaughn's answer. He still can't say anything.

Instead he stands up and walks out of the club, Vaughn in tow, into the thick, hot air of New Orleans where he can barely breathe. Vaughn seems unaffected, walking down the street agilely, into the crowds, forcing Jack to follow, to question the way everything's slowed down.

He shouldn't be here. He shouldn't be having such a hard time focusing on the subject at hand. But it's like everything else in Jack's life: absolutely senseless.

"How do you stand this place in August?" Jack asks Vaughn when they reach the streetcar stop.

"With a lot of alcohol and even more air conditioning," Vaughn replies comically. "What's on your mind, Jack?"

Why you came here, Jack thinks. Why you keep looking at me like that. The fact that I shouldn't have come here. The heat. Your shirt. The hotel room. "Hong Kong," Jack's mouth says. "What happened?"

"Your wife had fun almost letting me drown," Vaughn replies angrily.

"Sydney had to keep going--where is Sydney?"

"With her mother," Jack replies. "I'm not sure where."

Vaughn blinks. "I'm sorry, Jack," he says.

"Tell me about Hong Kong, Michael," Jack says, keeping emotion out of his voice. "You almost drowned. What then?"

"She let me go," Vaughn says, sounding awed. "I got a few bruises for good measure, but she let me go. I wasn't important enough to kill. Or maybe she knew that Sydney wouldn't want me dead."

"Maybe," Jack says, realizing that he doesn't have much to say about Laura. He doesn't know that much about her. Sometimes it feels like she never existed. "I'm not sure."

"That's okay," Vaughn says, casting a sidewise glance at Jack. "Neither am I."

Silence. Jack doesn't know what to say, doesn't know what to do. It's very clear Vaughn will not be the way to find Sydney. If Sydney comes back, it's going to have to be on her own, because neither of them have a clue. Another generation of Bristow women triumph over the men, it seems.

The streetcar rumbles up, a swaying metal and wood historical bolt-bucket and Jack doesn't want to ride it. He doesn't think he has a choice. They get on, counting out a dollar twenty-five apiece, two more tourists in a sea of them. They're forced to sit next to each other, two awkward men trying not to look at each other, and Jack starts to analyze the weave of Vaughn's pants. Are they climate-friendly? Did Vaughn pack the things easiest to pack? Did he buy the pants here for cheap?

Jack is so distracted that he almost misses the streetcar stop.

Fortunately, Vaughn has been paying attention and pulls the cord. The two of them disembark along with a pack of young, tinseled partygoers who offer Vaughn a swig of their daiquiri.

"No thanks," Vaughn says. He wanders away from them, walking closer to Jack than he needs to. Close enough for Jack to smell him, to catch the sweat-Old Spice-alcohol-skin smell of Agent Vaughn, CIA. It's almost too much and Jack has to catch his balance as they walk up the steps and into the frigid blast of air conditioning waiting for them in the lobby.

"See?" Vaughn asks, the smile back on his lips. "Where are we going?"

"Fourth floor," Jack says, blinking rapidly. "Room 417."

"That's great," Vaughn replies. "Are you all right?"

"I have a headache," Jack lies, looking at the man standing in front of him with such transparent intentions. Does he dare? Does he ever dare? If Sydney ever learned of any of this--but Sydney is with her mother. The world was upside-down and Jack finds himself look back at Vaughn--Michael--and feeling hypnotized.

"It's the air conditioning," Michael says, walking next to him to the elevators. "They keep it too cold in here. The first week I was here, I kept getting nosebleeds from the transition."

"That must be it," Jack replies mechanically. "I'm sorry, Mr. Vaughn. About Sydney. About what happened to you."

"Call me Mike," Mike says. "And it's not your fault. You got the civilian out, at least."

Jack smiles. He had, at that. Will had been fairly unwilling to go into even temporary witness protection--he had wanted to call Francie, over and over--but he was out of it. For good, this time. No matter what else happened, he owed Sydney--the Sydney who was a normal woman and not a spy--that much.

The bell announces they've reached the fourth floor. Mike follows Jack into the carpeted hallway with the ugly, mass-produced design, trailing him by one step. Until they reach the door of room 417. Mike is practically brushing against Jack as Jack fumbles for the card that will open the door and let them in. Finally, he slides it in, looks up, and Mike is looking at him with the blind admiration Jack thought was all for Sydney.

Rules change. For example, all of the rules about not kissing your daughter's possible romantic interest, despite that interest being twenty years younger and male? Gone the minute Michael looks deep into Jack's eyes and kisses him.

There is something very wrong about all of this, Jack knows. But he can't bring himself to care. He can't bring himself to do anything except wrap his arms around Michael and deepen the kiss.

Must be the heat. Or the humidity. Or everything that's driven Jack to pursue the last person to see Sydney before her mother into this godforsaken swamp.

Michael is unbuttoning Jack's shirt. Jack isn't nearly as considerate. One good yank and the buttons go flying everywhere before both shirts hit the floor.

It must be the psychological tension talking. They'd told him this could happen. They'd tried to make him see a counselor, even before Hong Kong. Jack can taste Michael's last jack and coke on his tongue. It's sweet, almost too sweet, but that's all right. It's nothing compared to the heat they're generating with each touch.

Strange how the worst person for you can be the only one you'll ever need.

Michael's hips are rocking against Jack's, and it's all surprisingly poetic, this sweaty little monstrosity of a make-out session. Whatever's eating Jack's brain is making it think purple prose. He kisses Michael hard, feeling tooth clash against tooth and Michael doesn't seem to mind at all.

This will all end badly.

How can it end well, with Michael (soulful-eyed Mike Vaughn, his daddy's boy, doomed to play out a new version of an old song) kissing his way down Jack's neck, across his chest, against his stomach while his fumbling fingers undo Jack's belt? How can anything end well when it's all just Michael looking for someone who understands?

Jack doesn't stop him. Jack actually encourages him, his hands finding their way into Michael's hair with almost too much ease. As though it were uncomplicated that Michael is giving Jack a spectacular amateur blowjob. Perhaps spectacular is a little too kind. Michael is too eager. There's a little too much suction, not enough finesse. Jack cannot believe that's what's got him worried. Another man's mouth is on his cock and he's criticizing technique.

The irony is amazing, as is the thing Michael suddenly does with his tongue that makes Jack's knees go weak. Maybe Jack spoke too soon, though there hasn't been much speaking at all. No speaking, really. Just touching. And licking. And--

"Good God," Jack mutters. Michael's eyes flicker up and smile at him while Jack tries to find something to brace himself against. There's the wall. It's awkward, but Michael has decided to try to wrap his tongue around Jack's cock and Jack is not as young as he used to be.

This will all end very badly. Jack (when he's thinking) is wondering who's watching this. Who will leave the obviously discreet envelope with the unlabeled videotape on his desk. Scratchy black-and-white surveillance video, a menacing note fluttering out of the envelope when he shakes it. Want to talk?

"No!" Jack half-gasps, and by some unpleasant coincidence, that's when he comes with unfortunate but absolutely characteristic timing. Michael looks at him, completely confused as he gets off his knees. "Not you--I--"

Words fail him, not for the first or last time in his life. He's staring at Michael, trying to figure out what the hell just happened and why he feels strangely flushed for all of that. Almost happy.

"It's all right."

This is a mistake. He shouldn't be here. But he is anyway.

"Come here," Jack says, pulling Michael toward him and giving him another rough kiss.

It can wait until later.


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